Anthony de Jasay issues a penetrating one-sentence summary of ideological politics:

Secular historical experience largely bears out that liberty has a cost in terms of security, security in terms of progress, progress in terms of equality, equality in terms of respect of rights, and so forth. (144)

According to this, are libertarians extremists who value liberty and progress and despise what are actually legitimate values of security and equality?

For example, in his discussion of inequality under laissez-faire capitalism (HA, 840-51), Mises advances no arguments against this “value” as such. He says only that

the inequality of incomes and wealth is an inherent feature of the market economy. Its elimination would entirely destroy the market economy. …

The triumph of this liberal philosophy produced all those phenomena which in their totality are called modern Western civilization.

However, this new ideology could triumph only within and environment in which the ideal of income equality was very weak.

But this is merely a reiteration of the incompatibility of equality and progress thesis. What can be replied to a man who desires to “exchange” some progress for some equality?

I think we have to condemn equality on moral grounds, as a perverse, evil value. The “trade-off” is of the same sort as the alleged trade-off between Smith’s desire not to be murdered and his desire himself to murder others. The latter is not a innocuous “value” that ought to be balanced with others. It’s entirely vicious and ought to be repressed by Smith within his own soul and deterred by threat of punishment by the government.

Similar with security (851-3): perfect economic security, understood as a government-guaranteed permanent place in the economy or at least substantial protection from competition that would otherwise come from new entrepreneurs, prevails in a caste society or under socialism of the Cuban pattern also at the expense of progress:

A characteristic feature of the unhampered market society is that it is no respecter of vested interests. Past achievements do not count if they are obstacles to further improvement. The advocates of security are therefore quite correct in blaming capitalism for insecurity. …

It is certainly true that the necessity of adjusting oneself again and again to changing conditions is onerous. But change is the essence of life.

In an unhampered market economy the absence of security, i.e., the absence of protection for vested interests, is the principle that makes for a steady improvement in material well-being.

This is somewhat better. “Security,” Mises says, not only conflicts with progress but is in a way inhuman. I agree with this 100%: human nature finds its fulfillment in everlasting progress. Coercively imposed “security” is contrary to natural law, another proposition of ethics.

Thus, libertarians, far from picking an extreme arbitrary combination of values, are in fact much better attuned to both economics and ethics than their opponents.


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